Last Saturday's clash between the Sharks and the Bulldogs was one that was sans a host of Origin stars. From Fifita, Graham, Bird, and Maloney to Klemmer, Jackson and Morris, both sides were stretched.

One player who very well could have been there though was Ben Barba.

Given that one game of his NRL-sanctioned 12-match ban following a second positive test for illicit drugs would have been served in the pre-season, round 12 could have been the game that saw grand final hero Barba return to the game.

I'm not 100% sure of the exact date, as there was conjecture over the nines and pre-season matches being factored in etc, but the fact is we will never know due to the events that have unfolded since.

For those who aren't aware of the situation, Barba tested positive for illicit drugs following the Sharks history-making Grand Final win back in October of 2016.

Far from the first footballer to party a little too hard following a huge win, Barba made an error that would see him pay a big price due to his past failed drugs test.

Following the positive result, Barba was released from his contract with the Sharks to get his life in order. The club distanced themselves from Barba but ultimately stood by him.

As proven countless times in the rugby league business, time heals all wounds, and Barba re-signed with the Sharks. Rumours began to swirl that Barba would sign a deal with French rugby to play during his NRL suspension.

When the NRL made it very clear that Barba's 12-game suspension would not begin until he returned to rugby league full time, Barba alerted the Sharks that he would not be honouring his re-signed deal, and would instead head to France.

Joining the list of NRL superstars turned "rah rah" also-rans, Barba quickly disappeared from the radars of fans of the greatest game of all and entered into French rugby oblivion.

Fast forward just months into a 2.5-year deal and Barba was cut loose after failing to make the switch.

Rather than returning to the Sharks to serve his suspension, Barba opted to chance his hand in the Super League, signing with St Helens.

Due to an unwritten agreement between the NRL and English Rugby League, Barba will most likely be forced to serve the suspension his second positive test brought about.

I say most likely as there is a chance that St Helens may still appeal the decision.

Looking at the above series of events, ask yourself, is it any real surprise that some players don't learn their lesson following off-field slip ups?

Barba committed an error, a selfish moment that would ultimately cost his side as well as threaten his career. I have never seen the appeal in illicit drugs, I'm not judging, I'm just not huge on the party scene, but the use of illicit drugs is illegal and it is clearly stated in contracts that there will be punishments for slip ups.

The former Dally M medal winner knew the risks, especially having a strike on his record previously.

He ran the risk, he was caught, and copped a suspension he was more than aware that would be forthcoming. It should have been the wake-up call. He should have served the suspension, and he'd be back leading a Sharks side who looks on track for another positive season.

Instead, he is still 11 games from returning to a second rate league, and with all due respect, the Super League is no NRL level of competition, from a return after a horror run in rugby union.

I'm not for a second saying Barba shouldn't be allowed to return to the game. I don't want to see his kids futures negatively affected, but Barba should have taken his medicine and served his punishment.

But, when you're a talented footballer, there are ways, and a high paid ways for that fact, around some rules.

If St Helens choose to appeal the suspension, it will leave a black mark on the game, and really send a bad message.

As it is, last Thursday's game against Wigan will count toward the suspension, and Barba will be allowed to train and promote his new club throughout the ban.

Barba's actions had a severe, negative effect on his side, the Sharks, and had the NRL on the back pages for the wrong reasons, yet earned him a highly paid working holiday in beautiful France, and a huge contract in England.

... and we wonder why some players never learn?